10Feb 17

Confessions/Diary of an Internal Evaluator

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(inspired by the poem, “The Pragmatic Dreamer” by Chris Lysy)

Part of my role at READ Saskatoon is to evaluate our programs, projects, and services. Here are some confessions from behind the desk, on the good, the bad, and yes…sometimes the ugly ebbs and flows I experience.

Day 730: I feel misunderstood. Many people don’t know what I do, except that it involves numbers…and/or charts…and/or databases. I have just calculated that 73% of participants in our Financial Literacy program reported changing the way they managed their money. Some specific changes included the opening of 100 new bank accounts and 35% of participants made purchases because of what they learned about budgeting. My colleagues and I are doing a happy dance (all except the staff member who shall remain nameless who suffers from a perpetual rhythm deficit). I feel optimistic and hopeful – I am a part of a team of changemakers!

Day 859: I fear that I may be squashing the dreams of my idealistic and visionary peers. But I’m not a dream crusher…I see my role as a hopeful problem-poser, not a downer. I try to identify what preparation, planning, and design is needed to define and then measure expected and unexpected results. They say ‘Measure twice – cut once’ but I say “Plan three times and measure at least once or twice”.

Day 890: I feel I am no longer considered a spy – always watching, always listening, always asking. My colleagues have embraced all things ‘data’, including survey collections, data entry, and jotting down anecdotes. I get to see what the numbers are telling us and today I realized that 63% of financial literacy participants accessed banks or credit unions because of the information they received during workshops. The data also tells us that this access goes beyond using the ATM machine; it involved going into the building and talking with a real live person for information, to open an account, or to negotiate rates. I am a part of a team of bridge-builders!

Day 913: I have a lot of conversations (which is a good fit for me, a natural talker). I get to work with the finest team of passionate, experienced, and qualified people who ask tough questions and seek to learn from things that fail (and they do occasionally fail).

Day 946: I just hung up the phone with one financial literacy participant who attended our program many months ago. She not only called her phone company to set up a payment plan to get her phone re-connected, she completely paid off her phone bill within six months, and has since been making payments on time.

Maybe there are a lot of numbers associated with the term ‘evaluator’ and maybe I am a wary pessimist at times. Perhaps I strike a fear of judgement in those who don’t know me and maybe I talk to a LOT of people a LOT of the time. Most definitely I will fail at some point in the future, and hopefully I will find out why and weave those answers to the benefit of the next project… because I am an internal evaluator.

Joanne LaBrash, B. Ed, M. Ed, started her career as an elementary teacher before moving to Alberta with her family. She stumbled into the world of non-profit literacy when teaching jobs became as elusive as unicorns. After moving back to Saskatoon, she continued doing literacy contracts while working towards her M. Ed. Some of her roles have included: workplace literacy program delivery, facilitator training & curriculum development, training manual revision, and volunteer trainer. Surprisingly, she discovered she has a passion and zeal for results-based evaluation, which led her to her current role as evaluation manager at READ Saskatoon.